I have a two-year-old spayed female cocker spaniel named Roxy. She is a wonderful dog. Whenever anyone comes to the house, including myself, she picks up one of her stuffed toys and runs over to whoever came in with it in her mouth. She gets very excited and her tail wags. I think that she wants to play or is just showing she is happy, but she doesn’t give up the toy. She just holds it in her mouth and runs away if we try to take it and play with her. Any idea why she would be doing this? I’ve only had her for four months, so I don’t know if this is something she has always done.
— Nancy F., Shirley, New York
Many dogs greet people to their homes by grabbing a toy and wiggling their hips – and it’s adorable! Roxy is definitely happy to see you and your guests. While she may want to play, she more than likely just wants to show off her “prey.” In any case, just let Roxy bring her toys to guests, since this is her preferred way to greet people. Don’t try to take the toys from her mouth and don’t try to play with her at that time. Just let her walk around happily with her toy.
When it comes to playing fetch, however, or keeping her from putting something dangerous in her mouth, you need to teach her how to “drop it.” Do this training when no company is around. It’s easy to do, especially if Roxy is food motivated.
When she brings you her toy, don’t try to grab it from her mouth as this sets up a push and pull dynamic that you won’t win. Instead, be ready with some hot dog pieces. She will be able to smell these treats in your hands. Tell her to “drop it.” When she drops the toy, click if you have a clicker to mark the behavior (or use a marker word like “bingo” if you don’t have a clicker), and then give her a treat. Throw the toy for her to fetch. When she returns, repeat the steps. It may take a few training sessions, but eventually she will drop the toy the moment you say, “drop it.” Then no matter when you need her to drop the toy, she will do it for you.
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal